It’s not about the ballots | AspenTimes.com

It’s not about the ballots

Dear Editor:

As news staff who have spent the past year covering an election fraught with violations of state election rules and laws, also voting device problems, we are appalled that the City of Aspen has decided to appeal the recent Marks v. Koch decision handed down by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Since the August 2010 primaries in this coverage area (Saguache County), a concerted effort has been made to create greater transparency for local voters who called on the Secretary of State (SOS) and the Attorney General (AG) to investigate and correct the practices of the clerk’s office after questions arose last November in two races. The SOS issued a report in Dec. 2010 listing several areas of concern over election practices they ordered the clerk to correct. And the AG investigation, while not finding actionable violations, did not deny that improprieties had taken place.

A recall election will be held for the clerk later this year, and the SOS will supervise an upcoming school board and special district election.

In August, Saguache District Judge Martin Gonzales handed down a decision in Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s favor, after Gessler requested the ballots from Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers for a hand count and she refused to produce them. Judge Gonzales ruled that Myers must defer to Gessler as the designated election official for the state and declared that ballots are “public records.” As a result, counting judges and watchers were able to examine and hand count ballots from the two contested races in a citizens’ review in August, a hard-won victory for bipartisan voters who subsequently documented many ballot anomalies and discrepancies during the review.

In returning to the ridiculous argument of “the sanctity of the secret ballot,” those appealing the case demonstrate their fundamental ignorance not only of the election process, but also of the basic freedoms on which this country is founded. This includes, most importantly, citizen access to public records, and both Judge Gonzales and the appellate court ruled that ballots are public records. Once a ballot is voted, it is separated from its identifying elements, and only rarely can the voter be identified. However, unscrupulous designated election officials and their appointees, with access to election records, could match votes to voters undetected if the right to monitor their activities through open records requests is compromised.

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The Colorado Open Records Act became law for a reason. That reason is to provide a set of checks and balances for government officials who otherwise might be inclined to color or withhold the truth for their own personal benefit or the benefit of family members, co-workers and so forth. It affords every citizen the right to request such records to assure that government activities are open and transparent and stay that way. And most importantly, it allows the press to consult and to print public records in order to safeguard and guarantee the public’s right to know the truth.

Ballot inspection is a key ingredient of this access because elections are the very process that allow the public to exercise their constitutional right to determine who will represent them and who will not. If ballots become truly “secret” as your city proposes, voters across Colorado will lose the right not only to verify the results of their elections, but also to successfully challenge those who conduct them when problems arise.

Organizations such as the Colorado County Clerk and Recorder’s Association (CCCRA) support attempts by Colorado clerks to withhold public election records. After learning of the recent appeals court decision, CCCRA warned voters that ballots will become “personal choices [that] can be seen by anyone who asks.” If Aspen voters buy this self-interested cant, supported by the ill-advised decision of their city council members, it is not only Aspen but the entire Colorado electorate who will suffer.

In short, it’s not about the sacred ballots. It’s really all about the sacred political cows and the functions of sacred officeholders; this is what dedicated elitists strive to hide from public scrutiny at all costs. If their effort is successful, good luck in verifying the next election and determining who is truly qualified to run for/remain in public office.

Sylvia Lobato, editor

Teresa Benns, reporter

Valley Publishing, Monte Vista